"You love me, don't you? I mean, you will marry me right?" Piu was treading on unfamiliar territory. But these important questions urgently needed answers lest her parents decided to pack her off with some other eligible stranger.
Ajay looked at Piu standing beneath the basket holding the ball between her elbow and her waist, her eyes full of hope, offering the love in her heart like a plate full of chocolate truffles. He wanted to pull her close and tell her that she was extremely adorable. "Pass the ball", he answered instead, seeming oblivious to her question. Could he ever explain his feelings to her?
Piu was starting to get irritated. Why is he this way? Why can't he ever be serious?  She sprinted across the court and shot a basket.
"Superb shot Piu!  Looks like you'll finally defeat me today."
"I asked you two questions, Ajay. And I have defeated you many times before."
 "Hmm…Love somebody as haughty, paranoid and pampered as you are…a preposterous idea, you must be kidding me!!" Piu abhorred the fact that Ajay’s insults always sounded so believable. Today she was in no mood for jokes.
"Hullo! Do you even remember whom you are talking to?” she bellowed.
There she starts…ha! I told you she was haughty! Ajay muttered under his breath.
"Did you just say something?" And paranoid…
"Umm…no, actually yes…Pass the ball" An obnoxious smile clung on his lips.
I won’t! She continued unfazed, “Everybody adores me. Why, even your dad loves me more that he loves you…"
Pampered too! “I don’t believe this! 3 on 3” Ajay thought aloud and then bit his tongue.
“Actually your marriage sounds like a great idea…” he continued quickly. “Go ahead and inform your dad that he can start looking for Mr. Rich-n-Handsome-n-Oh-so Right. If you feel embarrassed I can tell him on your behalf.” Didn’t Ajay just love torturing her?
“Can you please be serious for once?” Piu stomped her feet, exasperated.
Ajay turned to look at her. “I am being serious.” There was now a no-nonsense expression on his face. “Do you think that I would be happy, married to a girl who’s got calls from Ivy League schools and is probably even going to convert? You will always earn more than me. No man can live with that. Haven't you seen it in the movies?"                                                           
Piu was stunned. A teardrop involuntarily rolled down her left cheek.

Bloody liar! His stupid ego may not allow him to marry me but of course he loves me! She fought hard to drive away all reasoning that tried to tell her otherwise.
"So that is your little problem, you MCP? “, she replied, smiling through her tears.  “I understand why we can’t get married. But don’t torture that poor heart of yours by denying that you love me!!” She stood at a distance sobbing softly.
Ajay realized his joke had crossed limits this time and couldn’t bear to look at her large eyes set like two stormy seas on her pained face. The sky over his head had suddenly become overcast with grey clouds. He prayed fervently that it wouldn’t rain. But rain it certainly did.
‘Don’t you know me even a little?!’ he wanted to jerk her shoulders and drive some sense into her head.  Instead he shifted all his attention on twirling the ball on his finger waiting for a cue to tell her that he was only joking.
When the sniffing and the sobbing became more frequent he silently walked towards her hoping she would give him a chance to explain. He had never imagined that she would take his joke seriously.  
Defiant, Piu stood with arms folded and refused to look at him. "Don't touch me."
"I am not. I am touching your hair." Ajay loved how her hair fell across her eyes sometimes.  He then stroked her cheek. At that instant all he wanted to do was to kiss her salty, tear-stained lips, and protect her from all the pain in the world. Most importantly he wanted her to stop crying.
He asked tenderly, a smile still playing in eyes, "Would it make you happy if I said that I love you?”
"Don't talk to me!” Piu turned away hurt and angry, her large eyes brimming with tears. Ajay felt his heart would burst into a million stars if she didn’t stop crying. He never realized when she had turned into a beautiful woman who tugged at his heartstrings from a tomboy he played basketball with. He never realized when she had descended from the surfaces of his mind to the deepest recesses of his heart. And one day a long time ago she ceased to be separate from him. Nobody could understand him the way she did. She would just know if something was wrong, even if they were amidst friends and he had everything tucked behind a mask of mirth and laughter. She was the only person he turned to when he felt vulnerable, lost or broken. And when she held him close, her heart thudding in his ears, her soft breath on the top of his head assuring him that everything would be fine, he felt the safest.
He ran his fingers through her hair. "Okay. What did I do this time to annoy you? And why do you ask so many questions, all of a sudden?"
"You make me break all the rules. You are supposed to be on your knees, asking if I’ll marry you. Since you never will, I have to and so I do. And then you go ahead and insult me. The guy always makes the first move. Haven't you seen it in the movies?"
"Ha-ha! Well, as far as I know, I did make the first move and all subsequent moves. Didn't I just walk till here? Am I not trying to explain to you that I was only joking?”
 “Now if there aren’t any more objections, will you please melt into my arms like you always do? And what are those tears for?"
She sniffed. Prick! How he rattles my nerves!"
"I got scared, for a second I thought you were serious when you talked about me being more qualified and all. Were you?"
He cupped her cute, tear-stained face in his hands and looked into her eyes.
"I can’t begin to tell you how proud I am of your achievements. Tell me honestly; all these years that you know me, do I come across as an insecure person? Do you not understand me even a little? These tears are very precious to me and I would do all it takes to see that not a single one is ever shed. Even if that meant I slog for the rest of my life to bring you every bit of happiness you deserve. I couldn’t bear to see you unhappy and it would drive me nuts if you got married to any other person. You see, there isn’t any other option really. I hope this clears all your doubts."
“I would rather die than marry anybody else” She snuggled into his arms.
“Excellent! Go tell your dad that my love is all the oxygen you need to live. Can you do that for me?" Peace finally reigned over their kingdom. “Well then, I suppose all’s well that ends well…” he dug into his pocket surreptitiously brought out two fistfuls of powdered color and before she could even realize he smeared her face and head.
 “Happy Holi, dearest” he shouted, and made a dash for the exit. “You moron, I won’t spare you for this!” she screamed and charged behind him.


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